UN announces prisoner swap agreement in Yemen as peace talks begin
Swedish Foreign minister Margot Wallstrom (L) and UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (R) attend the opening session of the Yemen peace talks at Johannesberg castle north of Stockholm, Sweden, Dec. 6, 2018. EPA-EFE/STINA STJERNKVIST
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom (C-L) and UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (C-R) attend a meeting with delegates from both warring sides in Yemen during the opening session of the Yemen peace talks at Johannesberg castle north of Stockholm, Sweden, Dec. 6, 2018. EPA-EFE/STINA STJERNKVIST
Cairo, Dec 6 (efe-epa).- The United Nations special envoy to Yemen Thursday confirmed the warring parties in the Arab country had reached an agreement on the exchange of prisoners.
Martin Griffiths' announcement came at the beginning of the Yemeni peace negotiations outside of the Swedish capital, Stockholm, in a renewed attempt by the UN to end nearly four years of civil war that have pushed the country to the brink of famine.
"I am also pleased to announce the signing of an agreement on the exchange of prisoners, detainees, the missing, the forcibly detained and individuals placed under house arrest," Griffiths said at a press conference.
"It will allow thousands of families to be reunited, and it is product of very effective, active work from both delegations," the UN special envoy added.
Griffiths hoped the peace talks would result in the a resumption of the political process in Yemen.
The peace negotiations in the small Swedish town of Rimbo – located 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the north of Stockholm – are the first to be carried out in over two years.
The Houthis – rebels belonging to an armed movement that adheres to the Zaidi current of Islam who launched an insurgency against the Yemeni government in 2011 – did not attend the last round of talks, convened by the UN in September in Geneva, because they were unable or unwilling to travel by air due to concerns that the Saudi-led military coalition would interfere with their flight, according to media reports.
Thursday's peace talks occur during a time of fighting between Yemen government-supporting coalition forces to take the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida, the main point of entry point for food and medicine for Yemen's population.
The Arab country has been locked in a political and military crisis since popular regional uprisings began in 2011, with the Houthis taking control of Yemen's capital Sana'a in Sept. 2014, a move that spurred Saudi Arabia to go to war against the Houthis in 2015 with the support of the United Arab Emirates and other key Saudi allies.